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For Gourmet Chefs Only

Maria Smith | Thursday, January 13, 2005

When Ruth Reichl set out to create “The Gourmet Cookbook,” she was working with over 60 years worth of the best recipes that could be found. Since its first publication in 1941, Gourmet Magazine has published over 50,000 recipes of all kinds. Reichl, the editor in chief, enlisted the help of countless members of her staff to sort through all of them and bring together the best of the best in one collection. As with any cookbook, this required testing every recipe many times to find out what ingredients, temperatures and other details worked best. Of course with recipes from so many eras, creating “The Gourmet Cookbook” also required changing recipes for tastes and equipment that have changed over the years; along with sometimes incorporating ingredients that were impossible to find 50 years ago but are common today. Reichl writes that she wanted to create a cookbook with “every recipe you could ever want.” The book does contain ample recipes for any occasion, but it is definitely a book for “foodies,” those people who make a habit of cooking and a hobby of recipes. Reichl and her editors have aimed for the best recipes, not the most convenient ones. If you do not care to stock your kitchen with an array of spices or occasionally wander around the produce section looking for kale or chipotle chilies, or if you aren’t quite sure what it means to sauté something, this might not be the book for you. Reichl and her editors have included numerous recipes for some classic favorite foods, such as nine recipes for chocolate cake. This does not, however, include the basic chocolate cake that you will actually find at most parties. There is likewise no basic chicken soup lodged between the recipes for cold buttermilk with shrimp and cucumber with wasabi avocado cream. If your favorite food, now and forever, is cheese pizza, this may not be the book to get you through. However, if you like serving classics with a little bit of flair, you might enjoy making Moroccan-style carrots instead of just boiling them. “The Gourmet Cookbook” offers a new spin on almost any food or favorite ingredient you can think of. If you are willing to take some time exploring it and are willing to endure a few possible recipe disasters, you will almost surely discover some new favorites. Reichl may send you on a search for ethnic food markets for some specialty ingredients, which can be a favorite adventure for a true “foodie.” However, if a poblano chile or shiso leaves are not readily available and you do not want to search for them, many of the recipes can be modified with things that you can find. No recipe, not even one presented by Gourmet magazine, is ever truly authoritative, and a change may even be an improvement. Just be careful to read the provided explanations before assuming that one ingredient will go for another – Reichl may save you from the mistake of assuming, for example, that the jalapeno can be replaced with its small orange cousin, the habanero, which looks innocent but is in fact 30 to 50 times spicier. Reichl, in the tradition of her magazine and many great cooks, does not focus on the health aspects or weight considerations of her recipes. While some foods, such as caramel cheesecake, are worth the calories, it may not hurt to cut the amounts of butter or oil that go into preparing others. Perhaps the best part about “The Gourmet Cookbook” is that its recipes are already tweaked for a new generation and will perhaps be useful, with modifications, for another sixty years. Picking up “The Gourmet Cookbook” just may add a little bit of variety to your life.